“Black glutinous rice … Mmmm, mmm, mmm … just like momma used to make. And what the hell is ghee?” Mack said with a nauseated look on his face.
“It’s not that bad,” I told him with a laugh. “Better than dumpster dining.”
I turned to look at him. He looked like he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what. I told him, “Yeah. I’ve done it. Not fun. Don’t want to do it again but … better than starving to death. You think that rice is something get a load of this bag of dried sea cucumber.”
“Yum, yum,” he said nearly gagging. “You … uh … don’t plan …”
I grinned wickedly trying to yank his chain. Then I shook my head and said, “Nope. Not my thing. But it would be kinda funny to load this up and leave it for some people we both know. I mean if they are going to be pigs and brag all over about what they are hauling then they probably deserve a nice little treat like this.”
Mack shook his head in severe irritation. “Idiots. Rodney will have their heads when he finds out how badly they’ve compromised security. They are supposed to use rotating codes to communicate on the radios. If this isn’t some stupid plan to lure a gang over to give them some pay back … I cannot believe they’d really be that stupid.”
“I can. I hate to say it Mack but your old group’s so-called security sucked. I got away really easy both times and it was just out an open door. Now stop having heartburn over it, they aren’t your responsibility anymore.”
He sighed and then gave me a small grin. “You’re right Sunshine. Let’s just be thankful they are making our jobs easier. At least we know if they are scrounging around in the commercial district we will pretty much have free rein around here … barring complications.”
We worked quickly and silently after that, both of us having gotten talked out. We were also in a hurry to get as much as we could and get back to the House before the sun started setting. We didn’t even stop for lunch but just sort of grazed on stuff as we got hungry or got curious about what some things were.
I was starting to feel about noodles about the same way that Mack was feeling about rice when all of a sudden he grabbed me and fell to the ground. I would have had a thing or three to say to him if he hadn’t had his hand over my mouth and looking out through the front glass of the store. I nodded my head so that he’d understand I got the message.
Men were coming down the street in loose formation. I don’t know why the term popped into my head except that I used to read all of these end of the world type books and the authors used to write about things happening like I was seeing. It was like falling into a book I had like to read but had never meant to live out. Talk about your freak-out-o-rama.
Mack was still covering me and getting heavy … and so was his breathing on the back of my neck. I shivered but I think he must have thought I was scared or something because he patted my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “It’s ok Sunshine. Those aren’t regular military but I’d like to know where they got the stuff to play dress up with. They’re spread too thin in some places and packed together in others … both mistakes making them perfect targets. I just hope they don’t have anyone on the back side of this building. As soon as they pass by we are going to grab our bags and boogie. I think we’ve used up our luck around here.”
I nodded but it was a tense-filled minute before they got far enough away that Mack would let me up. We duck-walked to the back of the store and I grabbed as much as I could as I went … teas, candies, ramen, and shelf stable tofu is what I got in my bag. Mack hefted the big canvas tote that had the last of the millet, barley, and tapioca and still holding the gun opened the back door carefully before we both ran out and climbed in.
Mack said, “You’ll have to drive Sunshine. So I can cover our exit; they’re on my blind side. Can you do that?”
My snark comes out at the worst times. I played drama queen and sighed, “My hero! Save me from those nasty, horrible EBRs!”
We climbed into the 4x4 and I was able to use the back alleys we’d already mapped to get us out of the area and heading to the House without the men even figuring out where the vehicle noise was coming from. It was close however as we heard them shouting for the first few minutes, their voices echoing the same as the sound from the motor on the 4x4.
We didn’t exactly relax but it wasn’t like a Mad Max parade either. Mack finally asked, “OK, so what the hell does EBR stand for?”
“Huh? Oh … it is something Aunt Trudy used to … well … she was kinda making fun of some of the people in the crowd she hung around with. Some of them … just wow. Anyway it stands for ‘evil black rifle.’ My dad used to say people killed people, guns didn’t kill people. He loved Mom and liked Aunt Trudy but some of their friends … not so much. He said they were bad hypocrites because at least half of them owned guns themselves … they just didn’t want anyone they didn’t personally approve of to own guns.”
“You’re family … they sound … uh …”
“Yeah. Pretty much. But it wasn’t a bad way to grow up.”
“Oh. And you’re just so ancient now right?” he said with the first smile he’d given since he’d thrown me to the floor.
“I’m older than I was then. Some days I feel a lot older. I’d give a lot for a few do-overs but that ain’t happening. I’d ask about your family but … I kinda get the feeling that it’s a sore subject.”
He was silent for a moment then said, “Not sore. Just … I sound like an idiot.”
“Oh yeah? So I have to share how big of an idiot I was but you don’t? That’s fair right there.”
He shook his head. “You had a reason. Lotsa psychological trauma at just the wrong point in life. I … I grew up with every advantage. My ol’ man … my bio dad … I told you he was a short order cook but the truth is that while he started that way he ended by owning the restaurant though he still did he share of the cooking just because he liked to. He was a real workaholic but still a good dad even though he used to forget every special occasion … because he was always too busy making sure everyone else could celebrate their special occasion.”
“And your mom?”
“I don’t remember my mother. She got sick a couple of weeks after I was born and had some kind of seizure or something. She was in this nursing home for a long time and then she just … died. My step mother – she is my mom and was a friend of my mother’s. She has two kids older than me and had just gone through a bad divorce and needed a place to stay. She and my mother had worked out the details but … anyway Dad told her she could go ahead and stay until she got back on her feet if she’d keep an eye on me. She and Dad just sort of … they kinda just threw in together. She once explained it to me by saying they weren’t in love but they were head over heels in like and respect and at that time of their lives that’s what they wanted … and apparently needed. They only got married because one of my dad’s sisters started making noise when Bea – that’s my step mom’s name – got pregnant with Shani. And then one day my dad didn’t come home from work. He’d had a heart attack counting the night’s receipts. I was still pretty young and then Bea met Ralph and … anyway he’s not the typical pain in the ass step dad. He’s actually a good guy. I feel like crap dumping on him like I did. It was actually one of his kids that I couldn’t get along with and Ralph just got caught between us fighting. I started feeling sorry for myself and … basically I got involved with some crap and to keep me from screwing up my life completely they sent me off to Ralph’s brother who was in charge of this boot camp type school. It was only after I graduated and joined the army that they found out how tough the place really was as Bea had a kid with Ralph and they sent him to the school thinking it would shape him up.”
“Ok, did I miss the part where you had a silver spoon shoved some place ‘cause I must have missed it. Just sounds kinda … normal-ish to me.”
“Normal-ish?” he chuckled. “Maybe, but between my Dad’s estate, Bea’s real estate job, and Ralph’s accounting firm money was never a problem and I never really had to work for what I wanted growing up. At least not until the economy really crashed for real and by then I was rucking around in the crap at Fort Leonard Wood getting my ass trained off so that it would hump me along on its own even if I was too done in to move.”
“Now that’s what I call getting trained.”
“You better believe it Sunshine.”
“So were you one of those uber soldiers? Is that how … you know … your eye?”
“Uh … no. I was just your regular kind of soldier though I’d … I’d been giving some consideration to … anyway I was over in Africa and some idiot was too stressed out to wait until his break to take a smoke. He lights up right on the tarmac … within a few feet of where the plane I was in was getting refueled. You can guess the rest of the story.”
“There … there was fire?”
Something must have showed on my face because Mack leaned over and put his hand on the steering wheel. “Whoa Sunshine, if you’re gonna puke pull over first.”
I just kept seeing the people that died in the house fire and when I realized I might really puke after all I did pull over and tell him, “Maybe you better drive.”